The downside of going on holiday during winter is that when you return to the freezing cold you’re constantly wearing multiple layers so no one can see how nicely tanned you are and within a week you’re basically all pale again.
The plus side is that you get to skip a month of the worst of winter and by the time you return spring is almost starting to show itself. Today is supposed to hit highs of fifteen degrees, basically warm enough to start running in shorts again.
My (almost) month back in flip-flops and boardshorts was a month of adventure around three islands of the Philippines. Not everything went the way I’d have wanted it to, but with travel you have to be prepared for all your best laid plans to be completely uprooted and new spontaneous ones formed. Often the spontaneous ones can be more exciting than something you’ve spent hours researching beforehand.
I’ve felt very uncreative and unmotivated in my past week being back from holiday. I’ve sat here looking at my blog writing nothing and instead just flicked on my kindle to read others’ words. I’m trying not to write off a shopping list of what I got up to in the Philippines, so will be publishing a few over the next week each covering a different broad area, but to get things started here’s a general overview of how I found the Philippines.
Apart from the odd angry taxi driver Filipinos are warm and welcoming people. Always quick to flourish a smile, yet not a smile to sell, just a smile to greet, laugh, share a joke. I had the pleasure of meeting many locals on my trips, some for extended periods when they were joining us on day/overnight boat trips – both as other tourists and people working in places. Being back in an Asian country where English is a joint official language meant that it was so much easier to just chat away with people, something I miss a lot in Korea. Yet I also found that even people who didn’t have much of a grasp of English wanted to plug away and try to chat with you as much as possible. Generally I find in Korea that many people don’t want to try and speak for fear of making a mistake and losing face even if they are easily at basic conversational level.
The food in the Philippines was good but not amazing. A lot of our best dishes weren’t traditional Filipino dishes, just really well made and with really fresh fish. Many of their local dishes were based around a fried or fatty meat with not a lot of vegetables of saucy dishes. Compared to the array of curries coming out of Vietnam and Thailand it wasn’t a foodie’s heaven – but I certainly didn’t suffer – my standard let me order 2 of your mains plus a starter to fill me up was met with a few wide eyes both when I ordered and when I left the clean plates after.
The Philippines is renowned for its natural beauty rather than its stunning cities, something that I would attest having spent a bit of time in Cebu, Dumaguete and Puerto Princesa. They are very much get in and out places compared to the rest of the country – with their necessity as transport hubs being the only reason that one would spend vacation time there.
The beaches, islands, waterfalls, countryside – pretty much everything outside the urban areas of the country is stunning. The beaches and blue waters are what sell the country internationally, but jump on a bike and drive up winding roads into the hills and you’re rewarded with beautiful lush landscapes of rolling hills and waterfalls cascading into crystal pools, maybe also a natural hot spring flowing through the valley.
The Philippines is certainly a paradise, but I would say lots of very similar paradises. Each island has it’s quirk that sells it to people, but by the end of my 25 days I was ready to come back to Korea. Not that I wasn’t missing sunbathing by the pool within 24 hours of being back – but had I been continuing my trip I was ready to see something that wasn’t another incredible sunset over palm trees as I sipped my $1 beer. I know how that sounds, but as someone who isn’t very good at just sitting and doing nothing, I felt I’d snorkeled as much as I could!
I also found that I missed Korea. The people, the food, my weekly routine here – I was excited to come back and delve back into everything. Sunday is my one year anniversary of calling Korea my home, the longest I lived in one place outside of the UK. I can’t wait for my second year, to not be experiencing everything for the first time and the coming of spring!